Saturday, December 8, 2012

Nick's Picks, the 100 Most Notable Books of 2012 - 84, 83, 82...

#84:  The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver.  Penguin Press.  $27.95.

Ok, so Nate Silver is my hero.  Mr. Silver, a statistician, took his passion for numbers and combined it with his passion for baseball.  There is no other sport where stats are so often quoted, maligned and venerated - so the combination was a Natural.

He sold his system to the Baseball Prospectus, and then he played a little poker.  Another no-brainer combination of numbers and a game - except I'm pretty sure that Mr. Silver is scary smart.

Then?  Then there was politics.  In 2008, he correctly projected the Presidential winner in 49 out of 50 states.  Hard to really improve on that, but he did this past November when he correctly predicted the winner in all these United States - and for good measure, he also got right the District of Columbia.

Mr. Silver takes wishful-thinking, throws it in a blender, pushes the HIGH button, and pours himself a tall frosty cup of reality.

That's mmm-mmm good - and the Signal and the Noise is a clear-eyed look at Mr. Silver's science of prediction.

#83:  Bushman Lives!, by Daniel Pinkwater.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  $16.99.

Where was Daniel Pinkwater when I was a kid?  Or, rather, why wasn't Modesto hip to Mr. Pinkwater when I was a kid?  If I'd been given Lizard Music at ten, my world would have been a much better place.  Ah, well.

The beauty of Mr. Pinkwater's novels for Young Adults is that Old Adults can read them, too.  Like Bushman Lives!  Who is Bushman?  A fabled gorilla from the Chicago Zoo that our hero, Harold Knishke, obsessives over.  If I as a child could have read about a hall-monitor gone bad, a flautist who sells his flute in order to begin life-drawing classes, about hidden castles and hidden islands - about best-friends joining the Navy and then not - my world would have been a much better place, did I say that?

Fortunately, you can make your world a better place just by entering this, one of the amazing books that Mr. Pinkwater has created over his long and storied career.  How amazing?  Well, it goes off in so many different directions that a friend of mine described it as a literary starburst and to discover just how apt that comparison is, you'll have to read it.

Bushman Lives! indeed.

#82:  Summer of '68: The Season That Changed Baseball--and America--Forever, by Tim Wendel.  Da Capo Press.  $25.

Yeah, yeah - if you remember 1968, they say, you weren't really there.  But maybe you don't want to remember that stupid, terrible year.  The assassinations - King and Kennedy; Vietnam - from the Tet Offensive to the photographed execution of  Nguyễn Ngọc Loan to the massacre at My Lai; the brutal end of the Prague Spring - and the awful beginning of the Troubles in Ireland.

Yet for all that - 1968 contained moments of beauty.  The Beatles created Apple Records, Apollo 7 - the first manned Apollo mission - was launched, and the Detroit Tigers won the World Series.

This last achievement is brilliantly retold in Tim Wendel's Summer of '68.  This is Denny McLain winning 31 games.  This is Bob Gibson and his 1.12 ERA, his 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the Series.  Catfish Hunter and his perfect game.

Mr. Wendel covers all this against the violent backdrop of 1968 - providing you with the mirror that baseball so often becomes of the nation where it's played. 

It's ironic, of course, that his book came out in a year that saw the Tigers return to the World Series - only this time, the Detroit Tigers would be swept by the San Francisco Giants.


  1. Okay, excellent blog, but Silver getting DC, the most solid demo vote in the country as long as you and I have been alive, right should not really count as an accomplishment, even in rhetorical stretch.

    Also, when I tried to comment with my typepad account, your page returned an "openid account not verified" response.

    1. Guilty! Guilty as charged! I threw the DC thing in just because 51 out of 51 is just that little bit better than 50/50 - but yes, a blind dog without a nose could have found that one.

      Still, Mr. Silver gets bragging rights for a while.

      And I wish I could respond intelligently about your comment concerning your typepad account - I am sadly unversed in the response you received. My apologies for that - I am grateful that you were able to leave a comment by other means - and I thank you for reading.